The Phillies went into Chicago last year in late May kinda sorta still looking like a team that could surprise. After a 24-17 start, they were sitting at 26-21, even though they were coming off series losses to Atlanta and Detroit.
Then, we found out two things: The Cubs were obviously one of the best teams in baseball, and the Phillies … weren’t. Not even close. The Cubs toyed with the Phillies for three games, outscoring them 17-5. The Phils were never in one of those games, and the Cubs’ trio of Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks and John Lackey completely shut down the Phillies offense.
We tend to believe the Phillies are better than they were last year, and they probably are. But this four-game set should be a good barometer to see how much better they actually are against the defending world champions. After getting swept in Los Angeles, it’s tough to see the Phils being ready to take on the Cubs.
What to expect
A better showing than last year. We hope. They miss Hendricks for this four-game set, but it’s not as if there is much let-up elsewhere in the Cubs’ rotation. Coming off a tough weekend in Los Angeles, it might also be interesting to watch how the Phillies react to the adversity of blowing two winnable games and getting swept out of LA. It all depends on how you view this team. If you think they’re taking steps forward in their growth – and I still tend to think so – then they should be able to be competitive in this series and maybe win a game or two.
If you think there hasn’t been as much growth as the Phils’ early season record may indicate, then this could be a problem and could be a four-game beatdown. Let’s hope there has been some growth. And let’s not also get too caught up in how it’s going these past few weeks, because the schedule does get easier after mid-May.
Monday, 8:05 p.m., Vince Velasquez (1-2, 6.33 ERA) vs. Brett Anderson (2-0, 3.54 ERA)
Back-to-back good starts from Velasquez have shifted everyone’s thinking from calling him the next great Phillies closer to thinking this whole starting pitcher thing can work out after all. He gets the best draw of the week against Anderson, the closest thing to a weak link in the Cubs’ rotation. Another good start would go a long way to keep convincing fans and coaches Velasquez deserves every possible opportunity to stay in the rotation.
Tuesday, 8:05 p.m., Jeremy Hellickson (4-0, 1.80 ERA) vs. Jon Lester (0-1, 3.68 ERA)
What a start for Hellickson. Seriously, who saw this coming? There isn’t a whole lot in his peripherals to say this is a ridiculously flukish start … only a little bit. This will be his toughest start of the year so far – and maybe for the entire year – and a good test for him to show his start isn’t smoke and mirrors, but that it’s actually all Hellickson.
Wednesday, 8:05 p.m., Jerad Eickhoff (0-2, 3.56 ERA) vs. Jake Arrieta (3-1, 4.66 ERA)
Which Jake Arrieta is this? His hits per nine innings have skyrocketed this year (9.3) and his WHIP (1.310) would be the highest since he came to Chicago in 2013. He doesn’t seem like the Cy Young winner from two seasons ago. But, he’s pitching against Eickhoff, and since the Phillies seem physically incapable of giving Eickhoff anything resembling offensive support, he’ll probably throw a three-hit shutout.
Thursday, 2:20 p.m., Zach Elfin (0-0, 1.89 ERA) vs. John Lackey (2-3, 5.10 ERA)
For about 10 minutes there, during Eflin’s first inning in New York against the Mets, we were rightfully worried. But since then, he’s only given up three earned runs in 18 innings, though all three have been on solo home runs. Daytime at Wrigley Field against this Chicago lineup is not the time or place to go if you’re a pitcher trying to cut down on the number of home runs you’re allowing. This doesn’t smell like a good matchup for Eflin.